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Published on 13 Feb 2012 | over 6 years ago

About 2,900 women reported raped in Pakistan last year and almost 2,600, were raped in Punjab alone, Pakistan's most populous province. media reports say crimes against women have risen 18 per cent in the year to May and the human rights commission believes its figures represent only a fraction of the attacks which take place across the country. Pakistan's patriarchal society often condones discrimination against women, which is more prevalent among poor. The average age of rape survivors in the Karachi has decreased from 18 years to 13 years. The number of sexual assaults against children has increased in the first six months of 2011. Sexual violence against women and children is a nation-wide malaise, which is grossly under-reported, primarily because of the judgmental attitude of society against the rape survivor. Almost 80 percent were from Punjab followed by Sindh with negligible number of cases from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. Stricter local customs and stronger stigma attached to "dishonouring" women are big factors behind under-reporting of violence in Pakistan. In addition to that, there are other studies, which demonstrate that the number of children who survive rape is higher than adult survivors. According to the War Against Rape (WAR), a NGO, statistics, 67 percent of rape survivors in Karachi were under the age of 16. But more shockingly, a staggering 50 percent of rape survivors were even younger than 12-year-old teenagers. These statistics are based on the cases reported in hospitals, police stations and the media. Thus the actual number can easily be much higher than the available records as many of the incidents go unreported. The conviction rate in sexual violence cases is abysmally low. Most of the cases don't even get to the court. The WAR statistics show that out of the 138 medico-legal exams conducted in 2010, only 27 cases went for trial.
These figures are demonstrative of the overwhelmingly negative attitude of the police against rape survivors. In fact, according to an Interior Ministry report submitted to the National Assembly last year, in the preceding three years, the incidents of torture and rape by police officials had increased 60 percent. Such abuse by law enforcement personnel is enough to deter many survivors from coming forward to seek justice. It also acts as an enabler for future rapists who are emboldened by survivors' reluctance to report the crime, and woefully low conviction rate. We need to not only to overhaul our prosecution system but also change the attitude of general society towards rape survivors.
In such an overwhelmingly patriarchal society, women survivors need constant support on moral and legal levels so they can fight the battle for justice. There is also a need to improve the legal definition of rape to include child molestation, incest, and non-penetrative abuse. Studies show that most of the rapists are close associates of the survivors. But social stigma forces most of such families to not pursue charges and even change their places of residence, thus feeding into the culture of sexual violence.
Lastly, one often over-looked aspect in sexual violence is the percentage of men, mainly younger boys, who also become victim of these hideous crimes. Although, the percent of female survivors is drastically high, care must also be taken to provide emotional support to these survivors. There is an urgent need to review Pakistan's rape laws. In 2006, Pervez Musharraf's government stipulated that rape cases be tried in civil rather than Sharia courts. However, if a woman is unable to prove that she has been raped, she can be tried for adultery in both courts. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan estimates that a rape occurs in Pakistan every two hours and a gang rape every eight hours. Not all these women are able to prove that they have been raped. Until laws against rape are modernised, justice for rape survivors will only be partially served.
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